United States national team depth chart: It’s Michael Bradley and then everyone else at linking midfield

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Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over A few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Southern California offices.

Next up: LINKING MIDFIEDLERS

Two critical things to know before we even begin a conversation about the U.S. “linking” midfield position. It gets a bit involved, but follow along:

First, Jurgen Klinsmann has consistently maintained that he does not have a preferred formation. Rather, what the U.S. manager carries is a bag full of stylistic tenets that he wants observed: high pressure up the field, playing thoughtfully out of the back rather than hoofing balls blindly, defensive funneling toward trapping spots on the wings, etc.

All that can be accomplished in varying tactical arrangements, a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and so on.

So it bears mentioning that the tactical formation into which his U.S. teams have settled recently is largely based on making best use from a couple of his personnel centerpieces. Foremost is Michael Bradley (pictured above).

Bradley’s role has been defined as the “No. 8” in Klinsmann’s vernacular. That means he plays ahead of a primary holding midfielder while simultaneously tasked with sliding in alongside Jermaine Jones (or whoever occupies the holding spot) as opposition possession proceeds closer to U.S. goal. On the attack Bradley becomes the primary link between U.S. defenders and Jones, and into the attacking specialists such as Clint Dempsey or Graham Zusi or whomever.

Bradley is like an Andrea Pirlo starter kit this way. (And Italy’s gifted offensive maestro is so wonderfully influential that “starter kit” status should in no way be seen as an insult to the most important man in U.S. uniform these days, Bradley.)

The other thing to know about Bradley as it relates to this position: The United States is seriously hosed if something happens to the man. Truly, they lose their midfield controlling arm, their tempo setter, their top passer, their calming and assuring voice. More to the point here, the formation might well change dramatically if Roma’s ever-rising midfielder were to fall, injured.

So there may not be much point in going any further down the depth chart at the “No. 8” spot … but let’s make a little go, anyway.

Sacha Kljestan hardly received swell reviews recently during his turn in the Bradley role; but, truly, what did anyone expect? Kljestan can be a solid, versatile midfield man, but he’s not Bradley. No one in the U.S. player pool is.

Zusi has the technical ability to play inside, where he often patrols for Sporting Kansas City. But he certainly lacks Bradley’s high-level experience, his worldliness. Besides, this would mean finding more answers along the outside, and that means … yes, potentially bringing Landon Donovan into conversation. So, let’s not even go there for now.

Geoff Cameron and Stuart Holden are the intriguing possibilities. Cameron spent time in the attacking midfield role with Houston in MLS, with a mixed bag of results. Holden would look different than Bradley in the role but – assuming he rediscovers his pre-injury self – could potentially provide some attacking muscle, even if his contributions did not resemble Bradley’s.

Check back after the Gold Cup to see how far Holden’s efforts at recovery, steady and diligent, have allowed him to progress up the ordering.

Cameron’s emergence as a holding midfield contingency also means that Jermaine Jones could possibly scoot further ahead in the formation.

Past all that, there’s really no way of ordering a collection of semi-possibilities, the likes of Brad Evans, Jose Torres and even potentially emerging voices in the conversation like Mix Diskerud or Joe Corona. (Or even Donovan … but, again, let’s not go there for now.)

U.S. LINKING MIDFIELD ordering

  • 1. Michael Bradley
  • 2. Sacha Kljestan
  • 3. Graham Zusi
  • 4. Geoff Cameron
  • 5. Jermaine Jones
  • 6. Stuart Holden

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

Coming up tomorrow: right-sided attackers and left-sided attackers

 

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.